The installation of blackout curtains for the upcoming NCAA Final Four will make the skies around U.S. Bank Stadium even more dangerous for birds, activists warned the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) on Friday.
The comments came both during and after the public meeting in which the MSFA board received a status update on the $5.2 million curtain installation. The curtains must be in place before the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four April 6-8.
Constance Pepin, a member of the Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis and Minnesota Citizens for Protection of Migratory Birds, spoke on behalf of the advocates during the public comment period after the meeting, calling on the MSFA to take down the curtains on the western wall between the Final Four and the Garth Brooks concerts May 3-4. Within two hours, in a rare win for the preservationists, she received word that the curtains would come down.
At the meeting, Pepin said, “If the curtains stay in place and cause even more bird deaths than the glass causes now, what would otherwise be a great asset for the stadium will only further blacken the stadium’s reputation as an avian death trap.”
Environmentalists have been sounding the alarm about the danger the reflective glass building poses for migratory birds since before the stadium was built. The 270-foot-high structure, especially the western wall with floor-to-ceiling glass, confuses birds and causes deadly impacts, they say. Placing black curtains behind the glass would make it appear to birds as a dark, safe passageway for flying.
In response to the advocates’ concerns, the MSFA had previously contracted for a two-year study of the building’s effect on migratory birds. Results of that study are due later this year, but the advocates for bird safety consistently attend the MSFA’s monthly meetings to continue to press their cause.
The curtains are a new concern. Installation is well underway, primarily across the high-tech plastic roof. Next will come the curtains for the vertical windows, most prominently those on the western facade facing downtown. The blackout drapes, which the MSFA calls the “darkening solution,” will be retractable. They can go up for future events and then come down and go into storage until they are needed.
The darkening solution is required by the NCAA to maintain uniform darkness for practices and the three games scheduled for championship weekend. While the games are in the evening, the practices are during the day when U.S. Bank Stadium is awash in natural light.
MSFA Chairman Michael Vekich and Executive Director James Farstad had previously said that once the curtains go up for the tournament, they would remain in place for the Garth Brooks concerts in May.
Pepin pointed out that spring migration occurs from mid-March through mid-June. “We respectfully request that the curtains not be kept in place,” she said.
She and others in her group, including Ann Laughlin, an Audubon Chapter board member, approached Vekich after the meeting. He told them he would confer with staff about taking them down. Within two hours, Vekich sent the welcome word through a spokeswoman.
Laughlin said the coalition was encouraged by the action, saying, “Removing the curtains between events will ensure that the blackout system does not cause even more bird deaths at the stadium.”